Entering the season, perhaps the biggest question mark on the Pittsburgh Steelers offense was their group of running backs. They had a solid committee assembled, but the roles weren’t well-defined. This is especially applicable to Jaylen Samuels. We knew that, as long as he was healthy, James Conner would be the featured back on the team. Benny Snell would get touches in short-yardage situations and near the goal line. Anthony McFarland would come in for a change of pace and provide a potential home run threat whenever the ball touched his hands. It all seemed pretty well covered, and then there was Jaylen Samuels.
Jaylen Samuels Without a Role on Offense
We knew from the past that Jaylen Samuels could find success as a featured back. In his first career start, he put up 172 total yards on 21 touches in a hard-fought victory over the New England Patriots. During that 2018 season, Samuels’ abilities as a receiver out of the backfield earned a lot of attention. He had good hands and could make a play in open space. That year, Samuels proved he was capable of being a featured back when called upon. Otherwise, he was good to get snaps in passing situations and make some plays out of the backfield.
Entering the 2019 season, some fans wanted to see Jaylen Samuels as the team’s number one running back. They were let down, as his performance worsened in 2019. His yards per carry fell from 4.6 in 2018 all the way down to 2.7 in 2019. Samuels did make more of an impact in the passing game in 2019, though. His 305 receiving yards were the most among running backs on the team. It was made clear in 2019, though, that Samuels wasn’t much of a runner. He had steady hands out of the backfield, but that was about it. There was no big-play ability or potential to make tacklers miss. When Conner was injured at the end of the season, it was Snell, not Samuels, who assumed the role of featured back.
What Changed in 2020?
So far in 2020, Samuels has struggled to find playing time in a crowded backfield. He played 2o snaps in Pittsburgh’s Week 1 game following an injury to Conner, but only got two touches on those 20 snaps. Since that game, Samuels has played just 13 snaps and has only totaled three more touches. The reason for this is quite simple. There’s just not really a place for Samuels in the style of offense that Pittsburgh has run so far this year.
When he’s healthy, and he has been for the most part, Conner is the number one running back. He’s the best runner of the group, the best receiver, and by far the best in pass protection. Benny Snell had a big game in week 1 replacing Conner but has struggled since then. He has 17 carries for just 35 yards in the three ensuing games. Anthony McFarland made his debut in week 3 and has made a small impact with ten touches. Everyone has their role, and there just isn’t one for Samuels. He has good hands, but can’t make defenders miss the way Conner can. Snell is a way better option than Samuels for short-yardage situations, and McFarland has serious speed that Samuels doesn’t possess.
While he’s had some success in Pittsburgh, it appears Jaylen Samuels days in Pittsburgh are numbered. There’s not much for him to do in the Steelers offense anymore. And he doesn’t play enough special teams to make up for that. If a running back would get injured, then maybe Samuels would find some playing time. Otherwise, he’ll likely ride it out on special teams before being released and finding a new team in the offseason.
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